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It seems more and more common to hear about people who either can’t or won’t eat certain foods. But in an age when dietary restrictions are the norm, being a “picky eater” is not always a choice. Navigating social gatherings, whether you are the host or the guest, can be easier said than done.
If you are the host or hostess, inviting a “picky eater” can make your planning more difficult. Some guests may choose not to eat certain foods due to voluntary diet choices, such as following a vegetarian diet. Other guests may have dietary restrictions due to gastrointestinal (GI) medical conditions, including an under-recognized condition called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). EPI is a condition where the pancreas does not produce enough enzymes needed to properly digest food, which can result in unpleasant symptoms such as frequent diarrhea, abdominal gas, bloating, stomach pain and greasy stools with a very bad odor.
Dr. Roshini Raj, gastroenterologist and medical host on Good Day NY and the TODAY Show, offers tips for hosts and guests dealing with dietary restrictions.
If you are hosting a party, consider these ideas to make the event great for all your guests:
Communicate early – If you know or even suspect someone on your list has dietary restrictions, talk to him or her well in advance of your event to find out what those restrictions are.
Let guests help themselves – If your guest has just one or two foods they can’t eat, you may feel safe to work around those restrictions. If the list is longer, invite your guest to bring a dish or two that they know are “safe” for their dietary concerns to make sure they won’t go hungry.
Plan for the unknown – If there are guests on your list that you don’t know well, or at all, plan for the most common diet restrictions. Vegetarian and gluten-free are some of the most common special requests. So make sure you have at least one dish that meets each of these requirements.
Offer non-alcoholic beverages – Alcohol can irritate the GI tract. So if you have guests with GI issues, be sure to offer a non-alcoholic punch or other drinks as an alternative to your signature cocktail.
If you have GI issues, plan ahead to protect your health and help your host plan a great party. Consider these tips for guests from Dr. Raj:
Volunteer information – Whether the host is your best friend or the friend of a friend that you’ve never met, he or she will appreciate knowing in advance that you have dietary restrictions. Communicate what your needs are and offer to bring a dish that you know you can eat to make your host’s job easier.
Stick to your routine – Other factors including getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly and managing your stress can all help keep GI issues under control. So as much as you can, stick to your routine leading up to the party to help minimize your symptoms.
Eat normally before the party – Don’t restrict what you eat early in the day in anticipation of what you may eat at the party. Eat foods that support good health before the big event so you will be less tempted by foods you might later regret.
“Your health and your well-being are definitely of the utmost importance,” Dr. Raj said. “You don’t have to get into specifics. But these days so many people have different dietary restrictions for a variety of reasons – medical or just healthy living. So I don’t think you should feel embarrassed about voicing some concerns. There’s no reason to go into the specifics of why. Just say, ‘I’m not eating such and such foods right now.’”
Be aware of your own body’s routine, especially if you are tempted to chalk up new symptoms to outside factors like the time of year or to the series of parties you’ve been attending. If your symptoms are different or seem consistently worse, talk to your health care provider to find out the real cause of the change.
Many GI conditions share common symptoms, such as diarrhea, bloating and abdominal pain. Only your doctor can determine whether your increased symptoms could be a sign of a more serious GI condition, such as EPI.
Your pancreas is an important part of your digestive tract because it produces key enzymes that help break down the food you eat into the nutrients your body needs.
EPI is an often under-recognized condition that results when the pancreas doesn’t work right and does not produce enough digestive enzymes. In addition to the symptoms cited earlier, EPI can also lead to unexplained weight loss as your body does not get the nutrition is needs from the foods you eat.
EPI is usually due to another chronic condition, such as chronic pancreatitis or cystic fibrosis.
The good news is that EPI can be treated. Medication to replace the missing pancreatic enzymes combined with a healthy diet can help your body digest food properly and reduce the unpleasant symptoms associated with EPI.
Whether you have EPI or another type of GI condition, don’t let embarrassment put you in an uncomfortable situation at social gatherings.
To learn more about EPI, visit www.identifyEPI.com. If you have questions or concerns about your GI symptoms, talk to your health care provider.
Reviewed January 6, 2016
By Michele Blacksberg RN